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Old 02-26-2006, 03:27 AM   #1
Alec Corper
 
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Kihon, kata, kumite and bunkai in Aikido

One of the things that I have heard often is that learning Aikido is said by some people to be very difficult in comparison to other MA. This is usually explained on the basis of it being:
a.) very sophisticated
b.) a "ki" based art
C.) meant to be both spiritual and effective (martial?)

I would like to offer another perspective on this and hear your comments. In my experience with other MA, training tends to revolve around 3 distinct ingredients usually practiced separately. This is most true in striking arts, both Japanese and Chinese, and, I believe in other Asian arts as well. I will describe them briefly for the sake of discussion, accepting the fact that there are deeper definitions possible which may arise later.

Kihon is the practice of basics, how to stand, walk, turn, evade, enter, block, strike, take down, etc. All of these are practiced solo, usually with high numbers of repetition, and increasing speed and power as the movements become better understood. At first many of these movements are only possible by studying the seniors. (For example, when I began Wu Shu we practiced in lines, beginners at the back trying to copy the people in front of you, gradually moving forward closer to the teacher, due partly to progress, but more often through attrition, people just quit!) A lot of these movements didn't quite make sense, but we did them anyway.
Then came Kata or form practice, the stances, blocks, strikes and so on began to be combined in a series to be memorized and practiced over and over, again developing precision, speed and power. As kata became more advanced breathing would also be added, sometimes straightforward exhaling on the strikes, and sometimes reversed breath and intent. The tensing and relaxing of individual muscles or groups was explored, stability, flexibility, transitions, and other factors not easily apparent in kihon.
Then came kumite, fixed or freestyle sparring. Elements of kihon and kata applied with a partner, first structured, then spontaneous, quickly showing the relationships between all that had been learned and actual combat.
Occasionally this also led to bunkai, often referred to as applications, but actually the beginning of unifying the three k's in a single expression. Without stirring up this debate again, to me this is where ki is to be found in MA.
Now when I look at Aikido, at least my experience, I see we practice all three k"s from day one, but without the opportunity to identify clearly the artificial separation within some arts which make study easier in some ways. We also tend to assume that the bunkai of the technique being practiced is the outer form we see and try to execute, only gradually becoming aware, hopefully, many years later, that there is something else going on entirely.

Now I'm not saying that the style of instruction we have received should change, but I sometimes wonder if by going so fast we don't actually slow down the learning process. Perhaps for O Sensei's early students, dan graded in other MA, their pickup of the embedded bunkai was so instinctive that accelerated learning was not only possible, but preferable. I'm not sure that is still applicable given how many begin MA with Aikido.

Any thoughts, Alec

If your temper rises withdraw your hand, if your hand rises withdraw your temper.
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Old 02-26-2006, 05:26 AM   #2
eyrie
 
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Re: Kihon, kata, kumite and bunkai in Aikido

Good analysis Alec.

For clarity, I prefer to refer to kihon as foundational elements, rather than "basics", since everything is "basic" just done with higher levels of sophistication. Without a good foundation (in any martial art), the student unnecessarily impedes their own progress.

To me, the foundational elements of aikido (and indeed of any martial art) comprise breath control, posture, stance, transference of weight, striking/kicking, parrying/blocking/receiving, stepping and pivoting off lines of attack, balance and how to break someone's balance, breakfalls/rolling. In aikido, these are usually taught by way of basic warm-up exercises, chikon-kishin, and tando-undo (i.e. "wrist" exercises, shikko, ukemi, sayu-undo, funi-kogi-undo, kokyu-dosa, irimi-tenkan, senkai, ashi sabaki, tai sabaki, ikkyo-undo etc. etc.). I also tend to include basic striking and kicking practice, and solo/paired drills involving stepping/sliding/pivoting, parrying/blocking.

By understanding why these building blocks are necessary, the student can progress toward an understanding of how to put these building blocks together to create movement and respond to movement. Unfortunately, as you're aware, few students stay long enough to progress beyond the foundational stuff, much less develop any sort of proficiency in it.

I tend to agree that jumping straight into aikido kihon-waza can be confusing for students new to martial arts generally. The trick for me is structuring lessons in such a way that new students may spend weeks on these solo exercise before they are introduced to basic releases and responses from grabs and shoves, followed by a simple technique - usually kotegaeshi or ikkyo, but only a small part of the full technique. (A teaching concept I stole from jujitsu training ).

I find it easier for many new students to follow if the movements are broken down into smaller chunks. This works especially well for kids. Although, it tends to hamper their feeling of flow initially, I feel that in the long run, it prevents them from becoming easily disillusioned or demotivated by the seeming complexity. (After all, it does take time before some level of proficiency becomes apparent).

They also get to see the more senior students at "play", with more free-form movement (actual implementation of the same building blocks) to give them an inkling that there is another level of practice different to the one that they are at. It is also a good way for me to integrate the younger/newer students with the seniors and ease them into it at their own pace.

Sometimes, I find it necessary to split the class up and have one of the seniors take the juniors thru the foundational stuff. This also reinforces the importance of the foundational elements to the senior students. In many ways, it is also about me (as the instructor) working out what the senior student needs to be working on as well.

I think the teaching delivery needs to be modified for each student to suit their learning needs, within the framework of overarching learning objectives. Because there is a lot going on within a particular paired waza (2-person kata?), I feel that it is sometimes necessary to break down movements (bunkai) and explain things in different ways, or provide additional information as required. Usually, this would only be done to add finer points to the movement. Sometimes I will change the movement in order to highlight a point, or to get the student to do something - e.g. instead of saying "your partner will strike shomen-uchi and you step off the line at 45 degrees and walk past your partner", I might say, "both of you walk toward your partner and do a high five and slip past each other". This inculcates the fundamental concept of irimi, and serves its purpose of meeting the learning objective. I'm sure most traditional teachers would baulk at what I'm doing, but as far as my students are concerned, it makes sense to them and they're getting the drift a lot quicker.

I'm not suggesting that you need to change your style of instruction, but hopefully this has given you some ideas for you own teaching delivery methods. The key is to make it fun and be creative.

Last edited by eyrie : 02-26-2006 at 05:38 AM.

Ignatius
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Old 02-26-2006, 05:40 AM   #3
Alec Corper
 
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Re: Kihon, kata, kumite and bunkai in Aikido

Thanks for the reply, Ignatius
Out of interest are you Tomiki Aikido? My feeling (and limited experience) of both Tomiki and Yoshinkan is that there is a more kata like approach to practicing kihon waza than in Aikikai. I tend to use many of the approaches you mention, but I am still weighing up the value of mechanical versus intuitive training.
regards, Alec

If your temper rises withdraw your hand, if your hand rises withdraw your temper.
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Old 02-26-2006, 10:00 AM   #4
Amir Krause
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Re: Kihon, kata, kumite and bunkai in Aikido

In Korindo we note 3 sections of practice in Aikido, these may relate to the terms you wrote about:
Tai - Sabaki (basic movement),
Kata (all technique practice), and
Randori (free play).

Korindo Aikido does not have Kihon element (in empty hands). The basics of the techniques must be taught in Kata, hence the great importance on the role of Uke, the technique receiver. This Technical Basis relies on the movement that is taught during Tai-Sabaki practice. Given some basic movement capacity and technical capability, one can start playing with some limited Randori.

As one progresses, he keeps revisiting those three foundations, in a spiral which keeps going up (level) and getting wider (extended curriculum) circling between those three columns of essence.


Amir


See also:
http://www.freewebz.com/aikido/lecture/index.htm
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Old 02-26-2006, 10:58 AM   #5
SeiserL
 
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Re: Kihon, kata, kumite and bunkai in Aikido

Quote:
Alec Corper wrote:
Perhaps for O Sensei's early students, dan graded in other MA, their pickup of the embedded bunkai was so instinctive that accelerated learning was not only possible, but preferable. I'm not sure that is still applicable given how many begin MA with Aikido. Any thoughts, Alec
Compliments and appreciation on your observations.

IMHO, I would tend to agree, that the prior foundation in MA was a great benefit and may account for why I see so little of it, thus the need for it, in current Aikido training.

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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Old 02-26-2006, 02:49 PM   #6
CNYMike
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Location: Cortland, NY
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Re: Kihon, kata, kumite and bunkai in Aikido

Quote:
Alec Corper wrote:
One of the things that I have heard often is that learning Aikido is said by some people to be very difficult in comparison to other MA. This is usually explained on the basis of it being:
a.) very sophisticated
b.) a "ki" based art
C.) meant to be both spiritual and effective (martial?)

I would like to offer another perspective on this and hear your comments. In my experience with other MA, training tends to revolve around 3 distinct ingredients usually practiced separately. This is most true in striking arts, both Japanese and Chinese, and, I believe in other Asian arts as well. I will describe them briefly for the sake of discussion, accepting the fact that there are deeper definitions possible which may arise later.

Kihon is the practice of basics, how to stand, walk, turn, evade, enter, block, strike, take down, etc. All of these are practiced solo, usually with high numbers of repetition, and increasing speed and power as the movements become better understood. At first many of these movements are only possible by studying the seniors. (For example, when I began Wu Shu we practiced in lines, beginners at the back trying to copy the people in front of you, gradually moving forward closer to the teacher, due partly to progress, but more often through attrition, people just quit!) A lot of these movements didn't quite make sense, but we did them anyway.
Then came Kata or form practice, the stances, blocks, strikes and so on began to be combined in a series to be memorized and practiced over and over, again developing precision, speed and power. As kata became more advanced breathing would also be added, sometimes straightforward exhaling on the strikes, and sometimes reversed breath and intent. The tensing and relaxing of individual muscles or groups was explored, stability, flexibility, transitions, and other factors not easily apparent in kihon.
Then came kumite, fixed or freestyle sparring. Elements of kihon and kata applied with a partner, first structured, then spontaneous, quickly showing the relationships between all that had been learned and actual combat.
Occasionally this also led to bunkai, often referred to as applications, but actually the beginning of unifying the three k's in a single expression. Without stirring up this debate again, to me this is where ki is to be found in MA.
Now when I look at Aikido, at least my experience, I see we practice all three k"s from day one, but without the opportunity to identify clearly the artificial separation within some arts which make study easier in some ways. We also tend to assume that the bunkai of the technique being practiced is the outer form we see and try to execute, only gradually becoming aware, hopefully, many years later, that there is something else going on entirely.

Now I'm not saying that the style of instruction we have received should change, but I sometimes wonder if by going so fast we don't actually slow down the learning process. Perhaps for O Sensei's early students, dan graded in other MA, their pickup of the embedded bunkai was so instinctive that accelerated learning was not only possible, but preferable. I'm not sure that is still applicable given how many begin MA with Aikido.

Any thoughts, Alec
Hi, Alec,

When making comparisons you have to compare the whole packages, ie where each art is coming from.

When making comparisons to karate and kung fu systems, you have to remember that those lines have mainly been "outside" Japan. Karate-Do was imported to Japan from Okinawa, and even then, the old style art has its routes in Chinese systems. In fact, "karate" originally meant "China Hand," but Funakoshi Sensei changed to the "kara" syllable meaning "empty" for political reasons. So when you talk about karate you're talking about an offshoot of Kung Fu that only "recently" (ie within the past 100 years or so) found a home in Japan.

Aikido, on the other hand, is for the most part "purely" Japanese. In going from Aikjutusu to Aikido, O Sensei didn't really reinvent any wheels. Most of the training methodology he used had been used by the Japanese for centuries. So two person kata are the preferred method of training; even Judo had two man kata. Yes, there's some solo training. But training with a partner seems to be where the real meat and potatoes is in empty hand systems in Japan.

A lot of the differences, therefore, between Aikido and other arts, mainly karate, can be seen in their roots, one within Japan, the other only recently finding a home there. It's less a question of which is wrong or right but more of the cultural, historical, and practical factors, plus the personalities of different arts' and styles' founder. Which means nobody's wrong and everybody's right .... in a sense.

How's your head feel?

Now as to the implications for someone who has never done anything other than Aikido .... well, I can't comment on it from personal experience because I had done karate for 18 months when I first looked at Aikido in the '80s; and I had continued in karate and other arts when I got back into Aikido almost two years ago. So I can't comment on it. But why is it a problem? Do we want Aikido open to anyone who is interested in learning? Or do we just want to produce students who, after a few classes, can kick butt from here to Mt. Fuji? If the former, then obviously, lack previous training should not be an impediment. Furthermore, the more experience you require, the smaller your pool of pontential recruits becomes, dramatically so. More stringent entrance requirements could, over the long term, hurt and not help the propogation of Aikido. It certainly would have prevented almost everyone here from learning it!

Beginners in martial arts will always look and act like they have two left feet and ten thumbs, but I beleive that it is because for the first time in their lives, they are trying to get their bodies to do something specific rather than put it on auto pilot and think "walk there." Any martial arts teacher has to deal with this. Why should Aikido exempt itself from this? Because we're "too good" for that? I don't go along with that. Jun Fan/JKD classes are open to people with no prior experience; the instructors know how to handle it. I don't see why Aikido instructors should be any different. You have to start somewhere; Aikido is as good a place as any.
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Old 02-26-2006, 04:38 PM   #7
eyrie
 
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Re: Kihon, kata, kumite and bunkai in Aikido

Quote:
Alec Corper wrote:
Thanks for the reply, Ignatius
Out of interest are you Tomiki Aikido? My feeling (and limited experience) of both Tomiki and Yoshinkan is that there is a more kata like approach to practicing kihon waza than in Aikikai. I tend to use many of the approaches you mention, but I am still weighing up the value of mechanical versus intuitive training.
regards, Alec
Nope, not Tomiki. My teacher is Takeda Yoshinobu. His teacher was Yamaguchi Seigo. We are affiliated to Aikikai, but the training methodology I use is a broad mix.

At an introductory level, there will always be some element of mechanical learning, as the student attempts to coordinate left and right brain function.

As they begin to grasp the mechnical movement, I will add increasing levels of refinement. So in the beginning they might do, say, ikkyo as a mechanical response, but before the mechanics becomes an ingrained pattern, I will reveal layers of refinement to the basic waza.

Because of my broad background in martial arts generally, I tend to "borrow" liberally from one art or another, but merely to highlight similarities in movement, or to highlight differences in approach and philosophy.

One of the reasons I teach striking is to highlight similarities in body mechanics, which I believe also reinforces the fundamental requirements of giving an honest attack.

I think intuitive training comes as the student progresses. The fundamentals are the key. When the student can grasp the fundamental principles, technique comes naturally. One of the exercises I use frequently is the "circle of fear" and variations thereof, in which the student learns to let go of fixed patterned responses. It was rather gratifying when one of the students that had only been training for 6 months, pulled this technique out of nowhere - one that had not been taught to him yet. But it provided him with an intuitive insight into the art, and a momentary glimpse of an "aiki" moment.

I believe the instructor's role is simply to teach the fundamentals as they understand it. How you ultimately choose to convey your understanding is largely dependent on the student and where they are at in their training. IOW, the instructor (as you make the progression to "master teacher" ) needs to draw out the students' understanding - not force-feed information. Recall that the Latin root for education is educaré - meaning "to draw out".

I don't think aikido is hard - it is really simple. The perceived complexity is in learning how to move "naturally". Because most people tend to lead sedentary lifestyles, they need to unlearn ingrained habitual postures and movement, and re-learn how to hold their posture, how to walk properly and sometimes even how to breathe properly. It's not hard, but it takes a lot of hard work, like everything else, because we are attempting to reprogram our minds and bodies, and extend our spirit, thru kinesthetic training.

Sometimes a different approach is called for. Sometimes other examples are required. Sometimes comparative approaches need to be highlighted. Mostly, students need to feel like they're understanding and achieving. If you make the learning objectives fun, easy to understand and highly achievable, they tend to stick around longer - especially the younger ones.

Bear in mind that "Eastern" and "Western" teaching and learning approaches in martial arts, are vastly different due to differences in cultural context. One approach is to ignore the mediocre student, or verbally abuse them if they have latent potential, or praise them if they are hopelessly untalented. Students are expected to intuit these things, and the responisbility for learning rests with them.

I think the approach to teaching needs to be equally adaptable and flexible, because these days, we don't have the luxury of being able to pick and choose our students, and for the dojo to be a viable ongoing concern. It also defeats the larger purpose of bringing aikido to a broader spectrum of the community, in particular, certain groups of people that would not normally take up a martial art.

I believe that the training methodologies of aikido, is the perfect vehicle for sharing this wonderful budo. But the perfect vehicle is useless, if the teaching methods fail to convey the love and understanding that it was intended for. It would be extremely ironic if an art which purports to teach connectedness, adaptabity and flexibility in dealing with people and situations, retains a rigidly silent approach to its teaching methodology.

Although, sometimes the silent approach is useful for awakening the student's intuition. Nothing like the occasional smack in the face to "wake" them up (as in "enlightenment").

Ignatius
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Old 03-08-2006, 04:51 PM   #8
Perry Bell
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Re: Kihon, kata, kumite and bunkai in Aikido

Quote:
Ignatius Teo wrote:
Good analysis Alec.

For clarity, I prefer to refer to kihon as foundational elements, rather than "basics", since everything is "basic" just done with higher levels of sophistication. Without a good foundation (in any martial art), the student unnecessarily impedes their own progress.

To me, the foundational elements of aikido (and indeed of any martial art) comprise breath control, posture, stance, transference of weight, striking/kicking, parrying/blocking/receiving, stepping and pivoting off lines of attack, balance and how to break someone's balance, breakfalls/rolling. In aikido, these are usually taught by way of basic warm-up exercises, chikon-kishin, and tando-undo (i.e. "wrist" exercises, shikko, ukemi, sayu-undo, funi-kogi-undo, kokyu-dosa, irimi-tenkan, senkai, ashi sabaki, tai sabaki, ikkyo-undo etc. etc.). I also tend to include basic striking and kicking practice, and solo/paired drills involving stepping/sliding/pivoting, parrying/blocking.

By understanding why these building blocks are necessary, the student can progress toward an understanding of how to put these building blocks together to create movement and respond to movement. Unfortunately, as you're aware, few students stay long enough to progress beyond the foundational stuff, much less develop any sort of proficiency in it.

I tend to agree that jumping straight into aikido kihon-waza can be confusing for students new to martial arts generally. The trick for me is structuring lessons in such a way that new students may spend weeks on these solo exercise before they are introduced to basic releases and responses from grabs and shoves, followed by a simple technique - usually kotegaeshi or ikkyo, but only a small part of the full technique. (A teaching concept I stole from jujitsu training ).

I find it easier for many new students to follow if the movements are broken down into smaller chunks. This works especially well for kids. Although, it tends to hamper their feeling of flow initially, I feel that in the long run, it prevents them from becoming easily disillusioned or demotivated by the seeming complexity. (After all, it does take time before some level of proficiency becomes apparent).

They also get to see the more senior students at "play", with more free-form movement (actual implementation of the same building blocks) to give them an inkling that there is another level of practice different to the one that they are at. It is also a good way for me to integrate the younger/newer students with the seniors and ease them into it at their own pace.

Sometimes, I find it necessary to split the class up and have one of the seniors take the juniors thru the foundational stuff. This also reinforces the importance of the foundational elements to the senior students. In many ways, it is also about me (as the instructor) working out what the senior student needs to be working on as well.

I think the teaching delivery needs to be modified for each student to suit their learning needs, within the framework of overarching learning objectives. Because there is a lot going on within a particular paired waza (2-person kata?), I feel that it is sometimes necessary to break down movements (bunkai) and explain things in different ways, or provide additional information as required. Usually, this would only be done to add finer points to the movement. Sometimes I will change the movement in order to highlight a point, or to get the student to do something - e.g. instead of saying "your partner will strike shomen-uchi and you step off the line at 45 degrees and walk past your partner", I might say, "both of you walk toward your partner and do a high five and slip past each other". This inculcates the fundamental concept of irimi, and serves its purpose of meeting the learning objective. I'm sure most traditional teachers would baulk at what I'm doing, but as far as my students are concerned, it makes sense to them and they're getting the drift a lot quicker.

I'm not suggesting that you need to change your style of instruction, but hopefully this has given you some ideas for you own teaching delivery methods. The key is to make it fun and be creative.
Hi

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this very important topic, I am an instructor in both Karate and Aikido and in both I teach in much the same way as yourself, I feel it gives the student a better understanding of not only the technique but of how their own body functions whilst practising them.

Perry
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